Keys to Student Success

My third grader (Ellie) is now in Mr. Bowers’ Latin class, and the learning curve for Ellie, my wife and me has been steep as we’re adjusting to the system, curriculum and language.  It has reminded us some things that bear mentioning, though they are not inspired.

A little bit every day is far better than a lot on two days.

 Our Latin classes only meet twice a week, but as a teacher of languages (Spanish and English) for over ten years, I can’t stress strongly enough the value of frequent practice.  Though we cannot immerse our students in a Latin-language culture, we can practice with them daily.  And the same thing applies to all of the disciplines.    Whether it’s the daily singing of the Acts through Revelation song, or the Mammals song, or the recitation of the Bible verse(s), or going through a stack of math fact cards, or reading the Bible, frequent and shorter times of study are better than cramming on Mondays or Fridays.  

Frequent and shorter is usually fresher and sharper.  

I know that my kids need breaks in order to retain their focus.  As students get older, they can go longer between breaks, but even the oldest kids (like us 30-somethings) need breaks.  Having your student recite the Bible verse or conjugations or declensions on a walk to the park is sometimes better than more formal, structured focused “school” time.  Playing the Bible class song in the car is sometimes better than at the homeschool table. You get the picture.

Happy Christian warriors have a life. 

We want our students to work hard at school and hard at home, but the “hard at home” part does not necessarily mean “long.”  Our kindergartners will not have as much homework as our secondary students, and that is by design.  But in no case do we want for our students to neglect leading robust, rounded lives for sake of homework.  Our intention is for the lessons they learn at school (academic and otherwise) to contribute to the roundness of their character.  

So, as you do the same thing, don’t feel guilty if you have your students abstain from any homework at all on Sundays, or if you send them outside to play with the neighbor kids before dinner, even if they aren’t finished with their math facts.  (Mr. Bowers is going to punch me….)  We want them to learn how to work diligently and hard, but this process is long (in fact, a generation long), and we know there are bigger things in view than punching the homework time clock.  When homework becomes busywork, we miss the point.

To be clear, I am NOT saying that they need to not return to their math facts after dinner (maybe, maybe not; that’s not the point).  But I am saying this: ECS is here to serve you, not the other way around.  We are assisting you in the enculturation of your children; you’re not assisting us.  When school is running your life, it’s time to revisit priorities. Of course, this all requires balance and wisdom.  Hard work is important, and so is robust, celebratory, vibrant living…even for kids. By God’s grace, with our collective faithfulness, our students will develop the work ethic we want for them…while finding time to ride bikes in the cul-de-sac.  

Risus est bellum!


Go for It!

The following post is the convocation address from Tuesday afternoon.

Or, Changing the World from a Basement, Part Two1

Today begins our second year of Evangel Classical School. We meet in a new location, a location that, we can be thankful, still falls under Christ’s lordship, seeing that He claims every square inch everywhere. The site is different but our goal remains the same: to fight the serpent, to fight our sin, and to change the world as image-bearers of Christ. This giant goal may be too tall or too far away from us, but we continue where we left off last June. We start year number two in basement number two.

On this first day we convoke the Raggants. Convoke or convocation comes from two Latin words, con – “together” and vocare – “to call.” We call together each worshiping-warrior in order to ask God to bless our work. Each student, parent, teacher, and board member sees a relentless stack of work ahead and needs God’s strength. At this convocation we dedicate each book and lesson plan and white board and soccer ball to God’s glory. We pray that He would make our labor fruitful, maybe even fun. We don’t do it because of tradition; two years of first days does not a heritage make. We don’t do it as a formal sacrifice, as if wearing our dress uniforms forces God’s hand. We do it both to remember and to rejoice that no part of our school could exist apart from God. We say it and we really mean it.

Solomon grounds this educational undertaking on a key pedagogical insight (found in Proverbs 2:6).

For the LORD gives wisdom;
from his mouth come knowledge and understanding.

Note the three words: knowledge, understanding, and wisdom. These terms cover the wisdom books of the Old Testament just like wet grass soaks a boy’s shoes. Though they belong together and depend on each other, they can be distinguished. As a school we pursue all three, and now is a good time for us to consider why we need God for all of them.

Knowledge refers to the facts, to the data, the nuts and bolts, the ABCs. The knowledge of geography includes the names of cities and countries, locations of lakes and oceans and mountains, and their latitude and longitude on a globe. The knowledge of science includes birds and bugs, vertebrates and volcanoes. The knowledge of music includes the lyrics, the notes, the time, the tune.

No bit of knowledge exists without God because He created all things. 2 follows 1 when we count because God made the world and gave it order. Rivers flow into oceans, ocean water evaporates into clouds, and clouds carry showers of rain blessings back over us because it’s His business. He made the earth, put us on it, and gives us brains to collect what we see, hear, smell, and touch.

We stuff our student’s heads with knowledge, sometimes with knowledge that our younger students don’t fully understand. That’s okay because knowledge is true because God is true, and He understands. The knowledge of how to read, or knowledge gained from reading four thousand pages, or singing history timelines and Latin verb paradigms, won’t just evaporate some day because God is. All knowledge comes from God.

As students get older we work to develop understanding. It’s not enough to know things if you can’t tell how those things fit together, or don’t, or explode when you try. Understanding is the ability to connect and distinguish. Understanding sorts things into piles of good and bad, right and unrighteous, beautiful and meaningless.

All understanding, like the knowledge it counts on, comes from God. The only way to know good is to know the standard of good. Many schools look to the government for that standard, or at least a Congressional Subcommittee. We know that God gives understanding because He is the ultimate judge, the eternal being with perfect taste, and He sets the scales out on the table for us to use.

Our older students must seek God as they seek to learn logic, as they begin to debate and argue and find the acceptable. Acceptable to whom? Acceptable why? Who says? All of this depends on God. From His mouth comes understanding.

This leads to the third term, the most mature stage: wisdom. Wisdom does more than rehearse details and win debates. Wisdom lives the right way. A wise man puts feet to the facts, he adds sweetness to his speech. A wise man refreshes others around him. He doesn’t only know about how the cardiovascular system functions, he knows how to live loving God with all his heart.

Wisdom, true grasp of the principles, priorities, and practice of life, is not conferred because you finish a book or a class or a year of school. Those may be part of the process, but “the LORD gives wisdom.” Wise men depend on God; only men who worship God are wise. So the “fear of the LORD is the beginning of wisdom” (Proverbs 1:7). ECS is not about graduating smart students who simply know more. We desire to know more to understand better to walk in wisdom. Each stage orbits around God. Without God there are no sentences, no science, no sense, and there is no reason for school.

These three make a trivium trifecta, and we wage supernatural war by them. The serpent, Satan, would have us doubt God’s facts, abuse or at least be confused over what God says is good, and trash our opportunities to represent God’s glory.

So we begin this school year seeking His help and strength and favor. Education only happens by Him. And, Solomon says, it requires our work.

My son, if you receive my words
and treasure up my commandments with you,
making your ear attentive to wisdom
and inclining your heart to understanding;
yes, if you call out for insight
and raise your voice for understanding,
if you seek it like silver
and search for it as for hidden treasures,
then you will understand the fear of the LORD
and find the knowledge of God.
For the LORD gives wisdom;
from his mouth come knowledge and understanding;

Receive, treasure, make attentive, incline your heart, call out, raise your voice, seek and search…then God will give it to you. You’ve got to go for it. If you don’t pursue God and go for wisdom then you will fall into foolishness. On this first day we gather to recognize our need for God and to ask His blessing. We also call you–students and parents and teachers–to give yourselves to the work.

Fear God, work hard, and He will make our year fruitful in knowledge, understanding, and wisdom.

  1. Last year’s convocation address referred to our meeting space as “our Christ’s Lordship worship boot camp in a basement, as little as it may be.”